Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Masyarakat Terpinggir - Bajau Pe' Lau

By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 4/6/2010

Activists urge Indonesia to release sea nomads

Human rights activists on Tuesday called on Indonesia to release more than 100 stateless seafaring nomads who have been detained on Borneo island for alleged immigration and fishing offences.

People's Coalition for Fishery Justice coordinator Riza Damanik said 19 families with 45 children from the Bajau Pe'lau people were arrested last month as they travelled in Indonesian waters in 16 traditional boats.

"Some 103 seafaring nomads have been detained since March 10 by police in Berau district of East Kalimantan province, accused of an immigration offence and illegal fishing," he told AFP.

He said that when Indonesian officials asked them where they were from they "pointed in a direction assumed by the police to be the Philippines or Malaysia".

The government of those two countries have not recognised them as their citizens, he added.

"This is a humanitarian issue. They are now being held in poor conditions in the detention centre with insufficient food. We have to save them and return them back to the sea immediately," Damanik said.

At a meeting in Kuala Lumpur late last month, some 41 non-governmental agencies from countries including Britain, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States signed a statement urging the United Nations to give the nomads protection, he said.

"The Bajau people are known to have lived as nomads on the sea for thousands of years. Their tradition must be acknowledged and protected," Damanik added.

A police officer in Berau district confirmed only that a number of unidentified people had been "arrested for not having proper documents" and were still in detention.

Damanik said the nomads' boats had sunk due to neglect since they had been in detention.

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